West Riding Public Health, 1834.






Transcribed by John Lindley.

The extract which follows is from Volume II of "The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley and the District within Ten Miles of Leeds" by Edward Parsons (1834) and examines the effect of industrial working conditions on public health. He borrows heavily from (and acknowledges) the writing of C.T.Thackrah on this subject.

The general results of the prevalence of manufacturing industry in the district included within ten miles of Leeds, are too obvious to require any investigation whatever. We have already stated these results upon the cultivation of the soil and the prosperity of the inhabitants. We have already shewn that these manufactures have transformed heaths, deserts, quagmires, bogs, and scenes of desolation, into tracts of fertility and abundance; and they have increased the beauty, as well as the richness of the agricultural district, by stimulating, extending, and assisting the operations of those cultivators of the soil, who would otherwise have found no markets for their produce, and obtained no remuneration for their industry. But while beyond all this, confess that the manufacturing industry of the people has carried to a wonderful entent the development of the powers of the human mind - while it has called forth the physical and intellectual capabilities of our species - and has, perhaps, amazingly accelerated the advance of the social system towards its ultimate end - it cannot be denied, that these results have, in some points of view, been eminently melancholy and disastrous.

First of all, it is evident that in large manufacturing towns, such as Leeds and Bradford, the health of the people is greatly affected and deteriorated. To that eminent professional individual the late Mr. C. T. Thackrah, we are indebted for some deeply affecting details upon this melancholy topic. We shall condense the substance of his arguments and conclusions. Mr. Thackrah's observations particularly apply to Leeds.

"If we look immediately at home, we observe the wonders which science and art have effected. We see large buildings, manufactures of almost every kind, and substances so changed, reformed, and combined, that nature could hardly know her own productions. We admire the inventions of science, alike in their minuteness and their size, their accuracy, and their extent of operation. We see wool converted into cloth, in establishments so numerous and extensive as almost to supply the civilized world; we see the slight blue-flowered product of the field formed, in the same mill, into the thread which passes through the eye of the needle, and into the canvass which bears our ships to every region of the globe; we see rough and massive minerals drawn from the bowels of the earth, converted, on the one hand, into instruments which surpass in power the united strength of the largest animals, and on the other, formed into the finest and most delicate pieces of mechanism.

These, and works like these, are assuredly wonderful. But while we admire, let us examine. What are the effects of these surprising works - effects, I mean physical and moral? I say nothing of the wealth they produce or have produced, for wealth is good or evil according to its application. I refer to the health of fifty thousand persons, who spend their lives in the manufactories of Leeds and its neighbourhood, or in allied and dependent occupations. I ask, if these fifty thousand persons enjoy that vigour of body which is ever a direct good, and without which all other advantages are comparatively worthless? I ask, if the duration of life is as great here as in the agricultural districts?

To the first inquiry, the mere appearance of our population affords a reply. Take indifferently twenty well-fed husbandmen, and compare them with twenty manufacturers who have equal means of support, and the superiority of the agricultural peasants in health, vigour, and size will be obvious. Medical men, more over, have daily proof of the ill effects on the human constitution, which our employments produce. They find a number, a variety, and a complexity of diseases, which are little known in country practice, and which, though not directly fatal, greatly reduce the powers of life.

The second inquiry will be most satisfactorily answered by reference to the bills of mortality.

In the Returns of Population for the year 1821, as taken according to the Act of Parliament, we find the following statement in reference to the three Ridings:-

Allowing 20,000 Persons in each Riding, there were living in 1821,
East-Riding North-Riding West-Riding
Under 5 2870 2775 8281[sic]
5 to 10 2573 2643 2768
10 to 15 2260 2231 2370
15 to 20 1977 1999 2083
20 to 30 3079 2914 3028
30 to 40 2306 2208 2267
40 to 50 2007.3 1843.7 1702.2
50 to 60 1393.2 1420.2 1204.5
60 to 70 914 1103.7 815.3
70 to 80 474.4 629.6 377.9
80 to 90 135.7 208.6 94.22
90 to 100 8.6 20.48 7.43
100 and above 0.42 0.83 0.09

This Table does not shew the proportion of children who die under the age of five years ; but on other periods its bearings are important. We find that though the number of children living at the time of the calculation, is considerably greater in the West than in the other Ridings,-about six of the first class in the West to five of the same class in the North, the disparity gradually diminishes as we proceed to the succeeding classes: in other words, we find that considerably more persons die before they arrive at manhood in the West-Riding than in the North or East. As we advance farther, we observe that in the ages between forty and fifty the scale turns still more evidently against the West; for, though, as we know from other sources, the births in the West-Riding considerably exceed those of each of the other Ridings, the number of persons between the age of forty and fifty is actually less in the West than in either the North or East, The same decreasing ratio we find to continue till we arrive at the term 80-90; and though the estimate of more advanced periods is, probably from the comparative paucity of numbers in the returns, rather irregular, yet the West-Riding is still below either of the others. It is therefore evident that the duration of human life is considerably less in the West-Riding, the manufacturing district, than in other parts of Yorkshire.

To come more immediately home, let us compare the mortality in Leeds with that of a town destitute of manufactures; and afterwards with that of a merely agricultural district. I take at random Ripon and Pickering Lythe. In 1821, the population of the town and borough of Leeds was 83,796, and the burials were 1516, or one death in 55 persons. In the liberty of Ripon at the same time, the population was 12,131, and the burials were 180, or one death in 672. But Ripon being subject in a degree at least to the evils of a town, we are required to compare the mortality at Leeds with that of as agricultural district, where the people and their habitations are not crowded. Pickering Lythe returned in 1821 a population of 15,232, and the number of burials 205; one death consequently in 74 persons. Taking, then, the mortality at Pickering Lythe as the natural one, there was an excess of 321 deaths in the borough of Leeds during the year 1821. And allowing for the increase of population since that period, we may fairly say that at least 450 persons die annually in the borough of Leeds, from the injurious effects of manufactures, the crowded state of population, and the consequent bad habits of life! We may say that every day of the year is carried to the grave the corpse of an individual whom nature would have long preserved in health and vigour - every day we see sacrificed to the artificial state of society one, and sometimes two victims, whom the destinies of nature would have spared.

The destruction of 450 persons year by year in the borough of Leeds cannot be considered by any benevolent mind as an insignificant affair. Still less can the impaired health, the lingering ailments, the premature decay, mental and corporeal, of nine tenths of the survivors, be a subject of indifference. Assuredly, an examination into the state of our manufactures has long been demanded, alike by humanity and by science.

The following classes of manufacturers are particularly alluded to by Mr. Thackrah; Slubbers of cloth,- men who form the carded wool into tough loose threads, - and Spinners, - men who make these threads finer and stronger, - have a very active employment. Enabled, moreover, by the wages they earn to live well, these men are remarkably strong, robust, and healthy. Their countenances, when cleaned from the impurities of oil and dye, are often even florid. The children employed as pieceners have moderate labour, and, notwithstanding their blue and greasy skins, are found to be generally free from disease. Indeed they appear stronger and plumper than any other children in towns. Cloth-dressers or Croppers, working at the shears, seem to be little injured by their employment; they are, however, too much crowded, and hence they occasionally suffer from disorders of the stomach. Affections, termed rheumatic, are also rather prevalent. We found few cloth-dressers aged; indeed in one large establishment they were almost all lads. This, however, results chiefly from the introduction of , "cutters" or the dressing cloth by machinery, in which old men are rarely employed. By the confinement, indeed, rather than by the nature of the occupation, is health affected. Weavers have a confined atmosphere, and, though the limbs are fully exercised, the trunk is kept comparatively fixed, and the chest is not expanded. This stooping, however, is somewhat diminished by the mode of casting the shuttle with a string, instead of the hand. When weaving is carried on at home, the rooms are often small and ill ventilated; and among the Irish we find a sad want of cleanliness. Fever is rather frequent among weavers, but other acute diseases are rare; the men, however, seldom enjoy health. Digestion is imperfect, asthma and other affections of the chest are common. They complain of the smell from the oil lamps. This no doubt annoys the lungs, but their reduction of health is attributable chiefly to the confinement. The susceptibility to fever may arise from the frequent defect of proper nourishment. The weavers of stuffs have low wages, and are often out of employ. There are more old men in the occupation of weaving than in most others. Burlers, always females, are kept in an irksome posture, and often in rooms too small. We have found 106 in one chamber, long indeed, but very low, and deficient in ventilation. The spine is much bent forward. This inconvenience is however somewhat lessened by the practice of sitting and standing alternately. The eyes often fail when women continue the employ for years. Frizers, who raise a "nab" on the cloth, though they have not a fixed nor injurious posture, are kept in a close room often from 16 to 18 hours in the day. The process goes on without interruption, and relays of men consequently work by night. The noise of the machinery and the confinement, at first affect the head and impair the appetite, and a continuance of the employ finally renders the hearing obtuse. A dust rises from the cloth, but not in such degrees as to annoy the men. Frizers are intemperate, unhealthy, and short-lived. We could not hear of one aged man at the employ. Frizers fortunately form but a small class. Cloth-drawers, men who with needles draw up minute holes or repair injuries in the cloth, are kept almost all day with the spine curved, and the abdomen consequently compressed. In lettering, especially, the men are obliged to lean forward. Cloth-drawers sometimes sit, with short intervals only for meals, from five in the morning till eight at night. The air they breathe is often too confined; and occasionally, when working low-priced goods, they are annoyed with the dust from fullers' earth. Cloth-drawers are generally delicate, short-breathed, and subject especially to stomach complaints and headache. These indeed we found to affect in a greater or less degree more than one-half the men we examined. The eyes frequently become inflamed, particularly in drawing scarlet. No cloth-drawers live in health to a great age. Cloth- drawers earn high wages, and, though occasionally required to work closely and for an improper period, they have frequent intervals in which not Half the day is devoted to labour.

Willyers in cloth mills, persons who attend the machine which shakes and breaks the dirty rags, are grievously annoyed by the dust from their occupation. Singers of worsted inhale a fine dust; but this is not in such quantity as to produce a marked effect. Workers in flax, from their number and the effect of their employ, deserve particular attention. In the flax-mills, all the departments, with the exception of the spinning and reeling, produce dust. The roving-rooms have a little, and the dryhouse has a varying quantity. The carding-rooms are also dusty; but, the worst department is certainly the heckling. This, in some mills, is carried on by hand, and in such, the rooms are greatly clouded. In other mills, where the process is effected by machinery, the quantity of dust is considerably less. Still, how ever, it is such that a visitor cannot remain many minutes without being sensible of its effects on respiration.

The following are Mr. Thackrah's observations on the employment of young persons in flax mills. The substitution of children for adults produces less apparent and immediate evil. Young persons are observed to bear the occupation much better than those of full age. They do not manifest serious disease in the lungs. They are, indeed, very sickly in appearance, and their digestive organs become impaired; but they make no urgent complaint, and are able to pursue their labour with little interruption. At 13 or 14 years of age they are dismissed from the mill, or transferred to another department; and thus they avoid the effects of bronchial irritation, which, at a later period, might have led to consumption, - a disease known to be most fatal between the ages of 18 and 30. I am by no means convinced, however, that young persons escape without ultimate injury to the lungs. Children from 7 to 15 pears of age go to work at half-past five in the morning, and leave at seven in the evening or at half-past six, and leave at eight, - and thus spend twelve hours a day, for five or six years, in an atmosphere of flax dust. Serious injury from such employment, we should expect at any age, but especially during the period of growth. The stethoscope teaches us that respiration is great - the air-cells largely expanded in proportion to the early period of life; and as anatomists, we know that at the same period the mucous membranes are comparatively thicker, more vascular and sensitive. Why then, it may be asked, is not the effect of the dust in such circumstances, marked and immediate? The vis vitae, we may reply, the conservative principle is particularly active in children. It heals the wound of a member in them, much more readily than in adults. The same superiority of activity or power we may expect to be manifested in reference to internal lesions. The conservative principle long struggles against injurious agents; and at the period referred to, seems especially to resist the baneful impression of air mechanically vitiated. But the principle itself must suffer. We have before remarked that it appears to become weaker from exertion, The power which, in a natural state, would carry the body to the age of 70 or 80, is prematurely exhausted; and human beings, like our horses, when worked at too early an age, may be said to decay before they, arrive at the term of maturity.

The employment of young children in any labour is wrong. The term of physical growth ought not to be a term of physical exertion. Light and varied motions should be the only effort, - motions excited by the will, not by the taskmaster, - the run and the leap of a buoyant and unshackled spirit. How different the scene in a manufacturing district! No man of humanity can reflect without distress on the state of thousands of children, many from six to seven years of age, roused from their beds at an early hour, hurried to the mills, and kept there, with the interval of only 40 minutes, till a late hour at night; kept, moreover, in an atmosphere impure, not only as the air of a town, not only as defective in ventilation, but as loaded also with noxious dust. Health! cleanliness! mental improvement! How are they regarded? Recreation is out of the question. There is scarcely time for meals. The very period of sleep, so necessary for the young, is too often abridged. Nay, children are some times worked even in the night. The duration of labour is the opprobrium, rather of our manufacturing system, than of individuals. The masters with whom I have conversed are men of humanity, and willing, I believe, to adopt any practicable proposal to amend the health, and improve the state of their work people. But they are scarcely conscious of the extent of mischief.

Scourers of wool are all clay in a wet room, inhaling steam, exposed to currents of cold air, and with their hands and arms in water. Yet they are not sensible of any ill effect; they are not more subject than others to rheumatism, catarrh, or pulmonary inflammation. Dyers are exposed to the same agents, with the addition of ammoniacal and other exhalations. Though a few are affected with feverish maladies, and others complain occasionally of pains in the chest and the limbs, they are, as a body, healthy and long-lived. Brushers of cloth by steam, chiefly boys, are immersed all day in dense vapour. Where they stand, the index of the hydrometer points at 100, the degree of extreme moisture, and the thermometer at 80°; when the former in the open air was 70, and the latter 60. The brushers often suffer distress in breathing, and are consequently obliged to have a current of cold air through the room. They are more permanently afflicted with disorder of the bowels, the appetite also is generally impaired, and vomiting is not uncommon. The lads have a very sickly appearance. Millers of cloth are exposed to cold and wet, yet they are generally healthy. In the boiling of cloth the men are exposed to steam and currents from the often air. Yet the instances of serious illness are rare. Giggers, men who dress cloth by machinery, are also exposed to wet and vapour, but have no complaint. They often carry on their shoulders pieces of cloth soaked with water. Yet rheumatism is almost unknown.

Woolcombers work in apartments which, from the fire employed to heat the combs, are kept at the temperature of about 80°. The fires are made of charcoal. A light dust arises from the wool. The lungs suffer so much, that many persons cannot pursue the employ. The men, however, generally appear quite healthy. The men in the Dryhouses of cloth are subjected regularly to a hot and dry atmosphere. The thermometer in their rooms ranges from 110 to 130°. The employment requires the men to be almost incessantly walking and carrying cloth from one part of the room to another, and lifting frequently the iron tenter frames. They are therefore almost entirely naked. They complain of Ian-our, drowsiness, dizziness, perspiration, thirst, and defect of appetite. We rarely find an old man in a dryhouse, for few can bear the employ after the age of 40. The labour and heat seem to exhaust the nervous energy, rather than induce organic disease. When unable to bear the fatigue of the dryhouse, the men enter into other departments. Men employed in Singing Cloth are exposed to a high temperature, and to some dust which arises from the scorched wool. The digestive organs often suffer; but the men are not subject to urgent maladies. There are few old men in the employ. Glossers, who smooth cloth by carrying over it heavy and heated plates of iron, are of course, subjected to high temperature and great labour. Their work, too, is generally in the summer. They sweat profusely, are sallow in complexion, and appear unhealthy. We could not hear, however, of any particular ailment. Stuff-pressers carry heavy plates of iron heated to redness. Stuff pressers commence generally at the age of 14 to 16; and in consequence of the heat and labour, many are so reduced in health as to be driven to other occupations; and not a few, we are informed, die consumptive. Nevertheless, among those who remain in the press-shops, life is not abbreviated in a marked degree. Cloth-pressers have a similar employment.

Such is the melancholy enumeration of the effects produced upon health in various branches of manufacturing industry. We gladly state our conviction that these effects are more and more circumscribed by the laudable attention which many of the masters and others engaged in the different manufactures, have devoted to the comfort and health of their workmen. These effects, however, being still so deplorable as to demand especial attention, we do not consider that we shall be discharging our duty, ill as we can afford the room, if living as we do in the heart of a great manufacturing district, we do not exhibit the propounded remedies for the acknowledged evils.

The disproportion of wages is a great evil of our system. The high wages allowed in some departments, induce drunkenness and improvidence; while the low wages frequently given to weavers, wool-combers, burlers, milliners, road-men, &c., prevent a supply of proper nourishment, Diseases result from both extremes; chiefly chronic diseases, to the intemperate, acute, to the ill-fed, and gastric disorders to both. The transitions, moreover, in many departments, from high to low wages, according to the demand for the goods, and price of the material, have an injurious effect on health. Workmen accustomed to high living, suffer of course from sudden reduction, though to a diet on which other persons differently brought up, live in comfort and health. Accidents from machinery claim our notice. These are less frequent than we should expect. The masters are generally attentive to surrounding with wood the shafts, the wheels and other parts likely to entangle the dress. Every year I believe, diminishes the proportion of killed and maimed. In a flax-mill where 1097 persons are employed, only two fatal accidents, we are informed, have occurred within the last five years; and at the woollen manufactory at Bean Ing, where 1100 persons are employed, it is stated that no fatal accident has occurred within the last twenty years, nor a case to require amputation. Still, however, we find that in various parts of the country serious or fatal injuries are occasionally produced by machinery. Scarcely one would occur, I believe, if proper care were taken to box off the dangerous parts. Deformity, as an occasional result of manufactures, we must briefly notice. In this town and neighbourhood we frequently see not very marked deformity, but such a degree of it as to affect the figure and capability of motion. Many operatives have an absolute defect in the power of exertion. The smaller muscles only are brought into full activity. The limbs consequently, and especially in the growing youth, take the form which is induced by the weight of the body and the posture required in the employ. The spine evidently suffers. Wanting the action of its extensor muscles, it falls into curves, and these by altering more or less the situation of the upper extremities, produce decided deformity. Such is the natural result of defect of muscular exertion. But many operatives have an excess. In some of these, however, this excess is partial. One set of muscles is immoderately and almost constantly exerted, while another wastes for want of action. The general figure is consequently depraved.

One remedy urgently demanded, is a diminution of the hours of work. Most operatives in this country prematurely sink from labour, if they be not destroyed by acute disease. " Worn out" is as often applied to a workman as a coach horse, and frequently with equal propriety in reference to premature decay. "But how are we to earn a living, without working long hours?" would be immediately asked by the operatives; "Our wages are now so low that we can scarcely support our families." When wages were higher, families were not, I believe, in general much better supported; nor was health more regarded. Intemperance unhappily did more injury, than a diminution of labour relieved. But without further remark on this subject, we would urge that the artizan, in common with his master, has numerous artificial wants; that his diet is often higher than the demands of nature; and that the dress of his family is far more expensive than necessary. In fact, society, in every grade, has advanced to a degree of luxury which is directly and indirectly baneful to health and happiness. We must, in a measure at least, return to nature. We must reduce our unnecessary expenses, and devote one-third of the day to recreation, if we wish to live comfortably, and attain the age of man. The practice of returning to work almost immediately after meals, greatly interferes with digestion, particularly if the employ require the standing posture, or much muscular effort.

Another important reason for the reduction of the time of labour. I may be allowed to mention, if Plato's remark be admitted, that ignorance is the greatest of all diseases. I refer, of course, to mental improvement. Living in an age of science and liberality, we surely need not adduce arguments for the diffusion of knowledge through every class of society. But, though no direct check is now attempted to the improvement of mankind, the circumstances of civil life present often a powerful though indirect one. Men, who work from an early hour in the morning till a late one at night, can spare but an hour or two for knowledge ; and even this, when the energies of the mind have, in most persons, sunk beneath the labours of the body. That many mechanics do study after the toil of the day, is highly creditable to their zeal; but that they should have no more nor better opportunities, is a great reflection on our manufacturing system and our social feelings.

Attention must be paid to health. This obvious rule is strangely neglected both by workmen and masters, and by the majority of mankind, in all ranks of society. We rarely think of health till we lose it. It is especially incumbent on masters to regard the health of the persons they employ; to examine the effects of injurious agents, to invent and provide remedies, and to enforce their application. This, to us, appears not only a call of humanity, but a direct duty. The attention of masters is too exclusively engaged with the manufacture itself-the means of effecting it at the least expense - and the market for its productions, The work-people are less thought of than the machinery: the latter is frequently examined to ascertain its capabilities: the former, is scarcely ever. Care is seldom taken that the animal machine sustain as little injury as possible, and that it will bear the work imposed. Enough if the man, the woman, or the child be at work the requisite time, and perform what is required. If persons be disqualified for labour, fresh hands are promptly found. The master rarely knows what becomes of the persons dismissed, or the cause of their dismissal. This may be change of situation, or drunkenness, or broken health.

In our inquiries on the health of several employments, we have found the statements of the masters and the individual workmen, more frequently contradictory than accordant. The master states, without examination, what he believes to be true. The workman, though equally reluctant to consider the employment injurious, states what he feels. Hence many, says Mr. T., of the masters will be surprised at the statements of this paper, and think them erroneous or exaggerated. It is only after personal examination, a full and fair examination of the work people, that the general correctness of these statements will be admitted. The evil we have stated results from want of attention. The masters, I believe, have been indifferent to the health of their workmen, only because their notice has not been strongly drawn to the subject. There is, I feel convinced, no want of humanity or kindness; for we promptly see the exertion of this principle on the call of suffering. Is the wife or child of a work-man sick? Wine is sent. Is the man himself incapacitated for work, and consequently unable to support his family? His wages are often generously allowed. Are his circumstances unable to afford proper assistance? A medical man is sent at the master's expense.: Let but the same principle, the same kindly impulse, be directed to the preservation of health; which is directed to support under sickness, and we shall have little to deplore; let benevolence be directed to the prevention, rather than to the relief of the evils, which our civic state so widely and deeply produces.

We have made these copious extracts from the work of Mr. Thackrah, because we conceive the subject to be of the greatest possible importance to the inhabitants of this district, and to the permanent interests of the whole system of our manufactures. The diffusion of knowledge, the prevalence of temperance, and the circulation of valuable intelligence relative to domestic management and comfort, will undoubtedly accomplish much for the manufacturing population of this district; but so long as very young persons of both sexes are employed in great numbers in the mills, so long as it is found necessary to keep them at work for such a number of hours every day, and so long, in fact, as the system remains what it is, we do not perceive how the moral and physical evils which are evidently connected with the various manufactures specified, can be avoided.

Transcribed by John Lindley